Headship and love – What Ephesians 5 says about the cost of living crisis

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I often return to the question of how we understand and apply Ephesians 5:21ff to marriage today. I’ve a particular interest in this area having written my MTh dissertation on the passage. So I have an academic interest but my concern is that this should be helpfully practical.

One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that both complementarians and egalitarians mae the same mistake because they assume that the argument is all to do with hierarchy and power – who gets to be boss. That’s why there’s a lot of debate about the meaning of the Greek word kephale (head) and whether Paul intended to reinforce or subvert this

My understanding of Ephesians 5 in context is that headship is to do with authority and that Paul does not seek to undermine or abolish that authority. However, we need to understand what the nature of that authority is. As I’ve said, we assume that authority is about power, hierarchy and being in charge. However the point about authority is that it is the legitimate power to do something.  In other words, we are authorised. 

Paul closely links husbandly headship to Christ’s headship which should cause us to ask how Christ has acted as head.  Of course, that’s exactly what Paul does. He says that husbands should act towards their wives like Christ did to the church.  Hence a husband’s authority is to love his wife, sacrificially.  You see, Biblical, Christology authority is not used to reinforce my position in the hierarchy and to command others for my benefit. Rather, Biblical and Christological authority is given for the benefit of others.

A husband loves his wife by providing for her and protecting her even at cost to his own life.  Now, this is where we get to immediate contemporary application.  Whatever the theory says, many families and relationships still function on the assumption that the men are to be looked after and given what they need.  Men need feeding up. Meanwhile, who is it that goes without when things are tough? So often it is wives and mothers who make the sacrifices to ensure that their menfolk and children are okay.

I think Ephesians 5 would challenge us on that.  It would be reasonable when preaching on the passage to address men and to say:

“Times are hard and a lot of your families are struggling.  Now I know you’re used to having the larger portion at dinner, I know you expect to be served first. But that’s got to change. Make sure your wife and kids eat first.  Cut down your meal sizes. Don’t expect treats.  If you are only able to run one car due to the cost of fuel, make sure your wife has priority. If that means you have to walk to work or use public transport then that’s your responsibility.”

I wonder if you’ll be allowed back to preach again?

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